Criminal practitioners have slammed the Legal Services Commission’s ‘reckless’ plans to test best value tendering, saying they will force many firms in the pilot areas out of business.

The LSC is consulting on proposals to test the new method of commissioning services in police stations and magistrates’ courts. The scheme, which will involve bidding for contracts, is to be tested in Avon & Somerset and Greater Manchester in October, with three-year contracts commencing in July 2010.

David Campbell, senior partner at Bristol firm Sansbury Campbell and chairman of Bristol Law Society’s criminal law committee, described the scheme as ‘a reckless experiment’ with ‘potentially catastrophic’ implications. ‘Many firms that don’t get a contract will go bust, and others who bid too low in order to stay in the market could go bust in a year’s time,’ he added.

Tony Miles, senior partner at Bristol firm Bobbetts Mackan, questioned the LSC’s ‘reckless’ timetable, saying there was insufficient time to assess its impact before full implementation. ‘It’s wrong to call it a pilot; it’s a first phase roll out.’

Richard Miller, head of legal aid at the Law Society, said the proposed bidding structure, which could lead to firms bidding to an unsustainable level, creates the risk of market-failure. He said the Society is engaging with ministers and the opposition to make its concerns known.